Barbara Scharres is the Director of Programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, a public program of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
In this capacity she is the artistic director for one of the largest cultural exhibition programs of world cinema in North America. She has published articles and criticism in film magazines and journals including American Cinematographer, Film Comment, Chicago Reader, Variety, and the Chicago Sun-Times, and has contributed to books including Hong Kong Babylon, edited by Fred Dannen.
Scharres was named a "Chicagoan of the Year in the Arts" by the Chicago Tribune three times, in 1989, 1991, and 1999. In 2006, the French government awarded her one of its highest honors by designating her a Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for her role in advancing French culture through cinema.
Power is rarely discussed at Cannes, and it’s ostensibly all about art, although careers can hang on critics’ approval, and whether films are sold here, and to how many regions of the world. The annual jury press conference on the opening day is the first and foremost love-fest in which the concept of competition is downplayed and jurors find novel ways to sidestep the question of comparing one film to another in order to award the Palme d’Or in ten days.
Barbara Scharres sets the stage the 66th annual Cannes Film Festival.
The 65th Cannes Film Festival's eleven days of prediction, wild speculation and gossip, some of it centering on the notoriously cranky personality of this year's jury president Nanni Moretti, came to an end Sunday evening in festival's business-like awards ceremony (or Soiree de Palmares, as the French call it) that traditionally lacks the extended let's-put-on-a-show aspect of the Oscars. The jury was seated onstage in a solemn group, and the awards given with a modest amount of fancy-dress formality, a bit of unrehearsed fumbling, and acceptance speeches that were short, dignified and to the point.
The foul weather that has marred the usually sunny festival continued to the end, and elite guests and movie stars alike walked a red carpet tented by a plastic roof as the rain fell on the multi-colored umbrellas of the surrounding crowds. Festival director Thierry Fremoux personally held an umbrella for Audrey Tautou, star of Claude Miller's closing night film, "Therese Desqueyroux," as she headed up the famous steps in a calf-length ivory lace gown with a bodice heavily embroidered in gold.
Actress Berenice Bejo, an international sensation since her starring role and subsequent Oscar nomination for "The Artist," performed mistress of ceremonies duties in a white, bridal-looking strapless sheath with long train, her only jewel an enormous heart-shaped emerald ring. Just about the only prediction this year that turned out to be accurate was the one that advised that all was unpredictable under the jurisdiction of the pensive and often-scowling Moretti.
by Barbara Scharres
Cannes has become hot and uncomfortably muggy in a way that has me thinking longingly of the blankets and socks of earlier in the week. As the festival closes in on the final days, I'm hoping for some big excitement on the screen.
When the stiff, futuristic Brandon Cronenberg film "Antiviral" played a few days ago, it gave me cause to look forward even more to today's premiere of "Cosmopolis" by his father David Cronenberg, anticipating that the contrast between generations would also point up the difference between a wannabe and a seasoned master. Boy, was I wrong. I'm sorry to say that they're both among the worst films I've seen here this year. I've never been this disappointed in a David Cronenberg film.
"Cosmopolis" opens with a shot of a row of white stretch limos parked on a city street. The interior of one of them will become a primary location in this film, functioning as the office away from the office for mega-millionaire money manager Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), an arrogant and powerful 28-year-old. Seemingly inspired by the Occupy movement in the U. S., the story is set in New York in the near future (although what we see of the urban landscape never looks like anything but Toronto; even the CN Tower is seen in the background). The president of the United States is due at any moment, a situation tying up the streets with blockades and large-scale protests.
Big stars were out to shine this morning in Cannes, when "The Paperboy" by Lee Daniels premiered in competition, with a cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, David Oyelowo, John Cusack, and Grammy Award-winning R&B singer Macy Gray. Daniels had a massive hit with his previous film "Precious," which premiered here in 2009 and went on to earn six Oscar nominations with two wins, and countless other awards worldwide.
A director with that kind of success in his recent past has got to have a lot of hopes and fears riding on his next film. Daniels certainly had star power in his corner on "The Paperboy," but the film got a mixed reaction this morning in the Palais, and I'm not sure it's headed for a repeat of the acclaim that "Precious" experienced.
"The Paperboy" is adapted by Pete Dexter and Daniels from Dexter's novel of the same title. The film reportedly takes a few deviations from the source novel (which I haven't read) to result in pretty much a whole new story. There are many shifts of tone, making the film simultaneously a comedy, a mystery/thriller, and a Southern gothic potboiler. It's amusing and frustrating; hilarious and tense; awkward in its construction yet featuring bursts of gripping acting.
The sun is finally shining, and Cannes becomes a resort town once again. Aside from the thousands of film industry visitors, this place is clogged with tourists of all nations and in all manner of beach attire, many of them senior citizens. As far as I can tell, the main thing they do is promenade.
They stroll up and down the Croisette on the waterfront side and then the window-shopping side. They walk up and down the town's main drag, the Rue d'Antibes. They eat ice cream cones; they buy red, caramelized peanuts hot from the vendors' pans, and gummi bears and licorice; they watch costumed mimes perform under the palm trees; and they walk their little ankle-biter dogs, of which there are hundreds. It's a people-watching festival in itself.
Another invitation appeared in my mailbox. This one was on heavy cream-colored paper with fancy gilt lettering. As a result, I went to "East Meets West," an afternoon conversation between Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan, best known for "Rouge" and "Center Stage," and Cannes jury member Alexander Payne, recent Oscar winner for "The Descendants." Sponsored by The Film Foundation, it took place in a pavilion at the beach of the Majestic Hotel, where the sound of waves lapping at the sand in the background was a constant reminder of the setting.
Today looks to be a day of renegades and gangsters from the start, with "Killing Them Softly" by Andrew Dominik, the second American film to premier in competition, first thing in the morning. The all-male cast is headlined by Brad Pitt, who also starred in the director's Oscar-nominated "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. " This is a talky tough-guy movie that is heavy on long interchanges among thugs with odd accents and/or speech impediments. Talking like a tough guy means modifying every noun with the f-word (and I wonder what the grand total would be for this film).
"Killing Them Softly" is set in New Orleans, although pains are taken to avoid any distinctly identifying landmarks. The grey, wet, boarded-up desolation of the landscape could only be the post-Katrina lower 9th Ward, and I found the film's fleeting glimpses of that more electrifying than the introduction of Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), a pair of lowlifes setting up a robbery with Squirrel (Vincent Curatola).
The two bumblers manage, just barely, to pull off the robbery of a high-stakes poker game, which makes it only a matter of time before they're marked men. It also makes Markie (Ray Liotta), the pudgy mid-level gangster who was running the game a suspect. Whatever higher authority these thugs answer to calls in its enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to sort it out.
The first and only woman, who is also the first and only black person in the story, makes her appearance one hour into the film. She's a prostitute who's treated like garbage in her approximately two minutes on the screen. This is not only a man's world, it's a white man's world.
It's another day for umbrellas and rain slickers, not to mention sweaters. The Riviera is just not delivering the usual idyllic sunshine and warm Mediterranean breezes this year. The film market stands that border the beach in little cabanas have their doors closed for protection from the wet, and their inviting tables and deck chairs on the sand are vacant and dripping.
The first film in competition this morning, "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" by Alain Resnais, didn't deliver either, and I can only hope that the title is prophetic, and that the revered 90-year-old director ("Hiroshima Mon Amour," "Last Year at Marienbad") has some future masterpieces in store for us yet.
For "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet," Resnais assembled a large cast of famous French actors with whom he's worked over the years, including Sabine Azema, Anne Cosigny, Mathieu Amalric, Michel Piccoli and Lambert Wilson. This distinguished cast was supplemented by the young stage actors of the fledgling theater company Colombe. The visual techniques and acting style of the stage are pertinent to the look of "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet." In the film's press book, Resnais says, "In my films, I'm constantly looking for a theater-style language and musical dialogue that invites the actors to get away from the realism of everyday life and move closer to a more offbeat performance."
Sunday dawned with a dark and threatening sky and a chill in the air, continuing the dreary weather trend of the past two days. It's a day of heavy-hitters here at Cannes, with two greatly anticipated films by major directors premiering in competition: "Amour" ("Love") by Austrian Michael Haneke in the morning; and "Like Someone in Love" by Iranian Abbas Kiarostami in the evening. Is the weather an omen or just weather? We'll see.
Neither of today's competition films was made in the director's home country. Haneke made "Amour" in France with French stars, but then he has more frequently worked in France in recent years. Kiarostami made his previous feature "Certified Copy" in Italy with an international cast, but "Like Someone in Love" was made in Japan with a French producer, a first for the globe-trotting director.
Michael Haneke has made his reputation on a uniquely transgressive form of cinema. Films, including "The White Ribbon," "The Piano Teacher," and "Funny Games," cross boundaries and break taboos, all the while drawing the audience into complicity with moral compromises and sometimes vile acts. "Amour" represents a new and more gentle and affecting take on that artistic strategy.
In "Amour," veteran French stars Jean-Louis Trintignant ("A Man and a Woman," "My Night with Maud") and Emmanuelle Riva ("Hiroshima Mon Amour") play Georges and Anne, a married couple in their 80s. They are retired music teachers who live in a lovely high-ceilinged apartment, and their comfortable lives are steeped in music and the arts. Their adult daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), also a musician, has a busy life of touring with her British husband.
The sounds of Cannes usually begin for me before daylight, when I'm awakened around 5:00 am by the noise of the big motorized awning of the bistro that's directly under my window being rolled down for the day. That's quickly followed by the watery roaring of the street-cleaning machine as it drives up and down the little plaza where the bistro sets up its outdoor tables and chairs. Then, comes the metallic scrape of dozens of chairs being dragged into place. Finally, some natural sounds: birds, including the big screeching gulls that fly inland from the waterfront a few blocks away. The alarm goes off and it's time to start another festival day by arriving at the Palais at 8:00 am to get a seat for the 8:30 am press screening.
"Lawless" by John Hillcoat, the first of four American films in the year's competition, premiered this morning. Set in Franklin, Virginia, in 1931, this is a Prohibition-era tale of a real family, the Bonderants, who became local legends as notorious moonshiners. Legend is the operative word here, as this is a highly romanticized story of three macho brothers and their apparent talent for besting the law, the competition, or death, as the case may be. This is film in which the good guys can be beaten to a pulp and be OK the next day, or take a shotgun blast to the gut from fore to aft but still get up and walk.
The cast is easy on the eyes: Tom Hardy as the eldest brother Forrest, who, as reputation has it, cannot be killed; Jason Clarke as Howard, the fearless middle brother who's batshit crazy when he's been consuming the product; and Shia Lebeouf as the youngest brother Jack, an aspiring lady's man who still has a lot to learn about the family business. Love interests include Jessica Chastain as a former fan-dancer from Chicago who shows up at the Bonderant enclave seeking the quiet life (!), and Mia Wasikowska as the sheltered daughter of a fundamentalist preacher.